Fully disclosing nudity at festival

Organizers want public informed of works' contents

May 26, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Tucked away in the schedule for one performance in the annual Columbia Festival of the Arts lie two brief lines in small white print: "Contains brief nudity and adult content. Not recommended for young children."

While the issue of nudity is not new for the burgeoning festival, the advisory label signals officials' attempts to balance the family-oriented nature of the event with the desire to attract cutting-edge performances.

"The reason there is an advisory label is not so much about the nudity," said Katherine Knowles, the festival's executive director. "We have a lot of families with young children, and last year a few people very graciously said they would appreciate an advisory label so they can make their own judgments."

Since the festival's birth a dozen years ago, it has blossomed into an event that attracts thousands from across the region.

With the crowds have come the performers, many of them nationally recognized headliners and critically acclaimed acts who vie for the chance to be seen at the festival, which this year will run from June 15 through June 25.

One such group is Les Deux Mondes, a renowned Canadian theater group that will use the festival as the East Coast debut of its performance piece "Leitmotiv."

Fusing music with the high technology of holographic images, "Leitmotiv" tells the story of a couple who fall in love while war rages around them.

The images on the stage swirl, moving from scene to scene. The couple is briefly shown nude and embracing, and later a male character is briefly nude as soldiers surround him.

"The nudity is hardly there," said Knowles, who added that dance performances in the past have contained brief nudity. "I feel like we are bringing a huge gift to the festival because it is a deeply resonant piece that seamlessly combines music, voice and visual arts."

Donora Dingman, president of the board for the festival, said the performance will be underwritten by Bell Atlantic, where she works as area manager of external affairs. Ticket sales have been brisk, she said.

"We certainly want to showcase some of the more cutting-edge performances," said Dingman, who added that Bell Atlantic decided to sponsor "Leitmotiv" because of its combination of art and technology. "The label is just a matter of full disclosure."

Such disclosure is necessary when balancing creative expression with a sensitivity to the audience, said Valarie E. Costantini, chairwoman of arts and humanities at Howard Community College.

The college has had performances containing nudity where it was warranted, Costantini said.

"I believe strongly that it needs to be an essential part of the artistic statement of the piece," she said. "I don't believe that nudity can be merely for shock value and used in an artistic event."

Coleen West, executive director of Howard County Arts Council, said many county residents appreciate art and are more tolerant of the more avant-garde performances.

"The performance-going public in Howard County are very well-educated," West said. "Advisories are the perfect way to go, because we just never know what people might see that might offend them.

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